Renovated facilities are a game changer
In the discussion about Issue 81, the CH-UH City School District's capital project, the debate can be broken down to three components: The Need, The Plan and The Cost.
The first leg is the need. Between the state's report on our facilities, the IKG report, Regency's work, the Lay Facilities Committee's work, and staff opinions, anyone who denies the need would deny gravity, that the world is round and Barack Obama is an American citizen. I have toured every building, read every report and reviewed hundreds of photos taken by the Ohio School's Facilities Commission. The need is real.
The third leg is the cost. This is not a Cadillac plan, nor a paint and carpet plan like [the one] in '72. The cost is the cost to do it right. Part of the reason for the size, scale and scope of Issue 81 is the result of skimping in the 1972 plan. These numbers are in line with what Lakewood spent on a comparable plan. Why reference Lakewood, a Cleveland inner-ring suburb with buildings from the 1920s and added to since then? This plan is comparable to Lakewood's, [with] a reduction in the number of school buildings and square footage along with a mix of renovated buildings and new construction. Lakewood's plan and work have been well received and our district has used many of the same consultants.
The second leg is the plan (and timing). The sequencing minimizes student disruption. Three years and Heights [High] is done. Six years and the middle schools are done. Do nothing and within a couple of years we have the worst buildings among our peers no matter how you define our peers (geographic, demographic or socioeconomic). Delay the plan and you lose the ability to complete the project quickly. Delay the plan and construction costs go up. Delay the plan and interest rates go up. Delay the plan and you begin to have to use operating money to maintain the buildings. Delay the plan and what money you get from the state arrives even later.
If someone says the need is not real, they are wrong. If someone says we can wait and create a better plan next year, they are wrong.
This is not "Plan C," with super-sized middle schools and open classrooms. This is not a top-down plan, rubber stamped by the Lay Facilities Committee (LFC), and anyone who says that it is speaks from a position of ignorance or misinformation. How do I know this? Not only was the LFC populated with people critical of Plan C (I was among them), but the Buildings Sub-Committee of the LFC considered more than 10 different scenarios, and it presented those to the LFC to narrow down for closer examination. These recommendations were made by members of the community, NOT consultants or the school board.
Is this the perfect plan? No, as we cannot afford the perfect plan. This plan is the middle path, with each region of the district having a building close—eight to ten years from now.
I understand the desire from some in University Heights for the school board to pledge to keep an elementary school open in their city ad infinitum. While that is the plan and politics in the future will mandate this, there is nothing under Ohio Revised Code that would make a formal pledge like this binding. It is for this reason the current board does not make a ceremonial pronouncement.
What is distressing is when I hear people say, "What's in it for me, what do I get out of it?" or “This doesn’t impact me.” One of the most important things I learned in college was the definition of a Public Good—services and infrastructure government provides that everyone gets to use and benefit from. When University Heights wanted to renovate its pool, I supported this effort, even though I never swam there. When Cleveland Heights wanted to renovate and expand its Recreation Center, I voted for it. I do not skate there, I do not play basketball there, and I belong to another gym, but I understand the value it brings to the entire community. These are examples of Public Goods.
Renovating our public school buildings is a Public Good. This project is a game changer, going from school buildings that are an embarrassment to ones to be proud of. In improving student achievement and academic performance, facilities are the most visible of many different, simultaneous efforts schools must undertake. The game-changer impact is [can be] seen [in] a conversation I had with a couple after a recent tour of Heights. They were very interested in the timeline, as they were considering moving their children from a private school to Heights if Issue 81 passes.
Issue 81 has the ability to transform our schools and this impacts everyone who lives within the district. It determines not only our school’s physical plant for the next 50 years, it determines the fate and future of our communities.
Eric Silverman served on the Facilities Assessment Committee, Facilities Options Committee and the Lay Facilities Committee. He was on the CH-UH School Board from 1994 to 2001 and the CH-UH Library Board from 2003 to 2009. At present, he is president of the Cleveland Heights High School Alumni Foundation and is a candidate for the CH-UH School Board this November.